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    Unique dynamic profiles of social attention in autistic females

    Del Bianco, Teresa and Mason, Luke and Lai, M.-C. and Loth, E. and Tillman, J. and Charman, T. and Hayward, H. and Gleissl, T. and Buitelaar, J.K. and Murphy, D.G.M. and Baron-Cohen, S. and Bölte, S. and Johnson, Mark H. and Jones, Emily J.H. and The EU-AIMS LEAP, Group (2022) Unique dynamic profiles of social attention in autistic females. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 63 (12), pp. 1602-1614. ISSN 0021-9630.

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    Background: Social attention affords learning opportunities across development and may contribute to individual differences in developmental trajectories, such as between male and female individuals, and in neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism. Methods: Using eye-tracking, we measured social attention in a large cohort of autistic (n=123) and non-autistic females (n=107), and autistic (n=330) and non-autistic males (n=204), aged 6-30 years. Using mixed Growth Curve Analysis, we modelled sex and diagnostic effects on the temporal dynamics of proportional looking time to three types of social stimuli (lean-static, naturalistic-static, naturalistic-dynamic), and examined the link between individual differences and dimensional social and non-social autistic traits in autistic females and males. Results: In the lean-static stimulus, average face-looking was higher in females than males in both autistic and non-autistic groups. Differences in the dynamic pattern of face-looking were seen in autistic vs. non-autistic females, but not males, with face-looking peaking later in the trial in autistic females. In the naturalistic-dynamic stimulus, average face-looking was higher in females than males of both groups; changes in the dynamic pattern of face looking were seen in autistic vs. non-autistic males, but not females, with a steeper peak in non-autistic males. Lower average face-looking was associated with higher observer-measured autistic characteristics in autistic females, but not in males. Conclusions: Overall, we found stronger social attention in females to a similar degree in both autistic and non-autistic groups. Nonetheless, the dynamic profiles of social attention differed in different ways in autistic females and males compared to their non-autistic peers, and autistic traits predicted trends of average face-looking in autistic females. These findings support the role of social attention in the emergence of sex-related differences in autistic characteristics, suggesting an avenue to phenotypic stratification.


    Item Type: Article
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): autism, social attention, eye-tracking, sex differences, male, female
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Science > School of Psychological Sciences
    Research Centres and Institutes: Brain and Cognitive Development, Centre for (CBCD)
    Depositing User: Teresa Del Bianco
    Date Deposited: 17 May 2022 14:06
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 18:16


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